NBA TV’s re-run of the Lakers/Suns Western Conference Finals series is playing in the Dime office right now, and we just watched Steve Nash knock down the game-icing free throws in Game Three. So of course that started an argument: Who would you want at the line to win (or seal) the game for your team?
When people talk about “clutch,” they’re usually referring to game-winning shots and buzzer-beaters. But one underrated part of being clutch is hitting free throws. Teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Pistons have been successful recently because they had that one guy (or two) who can hold a lead late in the fourth quarter by knocking down shots at the line. As much as a buzzer-beating three hurts, nonstop dagger free throws to kill your comeback can hurt just as much. With that, here are my Top-5 clutch free throw shooters:
5. Chauncey Billups — Forget about the “Mr. Big Shot” nickname for a second and consider his 89.2 career free-throw percentage, and that he got a lot of reps shooting clutch free throws during his time with the Pistons.
4. Dirk Nowitzki — Amazing shooter with amazing touch. People like to call Dirk a choker and claim he’s not clutch, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When the Mavs are trying to protect a lead late in the game, Dirk is ice-water at the line.
3. Kobe Bryant — He’s cold bolded. If the game is at stake, he WON’T miss. Five championship rings and two Finals MVP trophies can’t be wrong.
2. Steve Nash — Even with a broken nose, Nash still wouldn’t miss clutch free throws. For his career he’s shot 90.3 percent at the line in the regular season, and 89.9 percent in the playoffs.
1. Ray Allen — The most pure stroke in the game. Paul Pierce might be Boston’s go-to guy in crunch time, but watch when the C’s need to hold a lead and know the other team is going to foul: They’re 100 percent running an inbound play to get Ray the ball, and the defense knows it. He’s been known to go weeks without missing at the line.